New Delhi, Oct 16 (IANS) Thousands of commuters in Delhi were hit hard as large numbers of auto-rickshaw and taxi operators went off the roads Tuesday to press for a fare hike and protest against installation of GPS systems in their vehicles.
The autorickshaw and taxi operators were on a one-day strike opposing the high installation charges for the proposed Global Positioning System (GPS) in their vehicles and demanding a fare hike to compensate for the hike in fuel prices.
Over 10,000 taxis and a large number of autorickshaw unions have decided to stay off the roads.
"A large number of autos and about 10,000 taxis out of 15,000 in Delhi are not plying in many parts of the national capital as a mark of protest. There are a total of 55,000 autos in Delhi and all of them depend on CNG. In such a case, along with hike in CNG prices, even the cost of living for a normal auto-rickshaw driver has turned expensive and unaffordable," Rajendra Soni of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh told IANS.
The auto unions' main demand is a hike in the fares.
"In 2010, when the auto fare was hiked, the cost of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) was Rs.21.90. Now, it is Rs.38.35. With a hike in fuel prices, a hike in the fares is a must," he said.
Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, Delhi Pradesh Auto Union, Delhi Pradesh Taxi Union, and Auto-rickshaw Driver Sangharsh Committee are some of the associations which are in talks with the Delhi transport minister and the transport commissioner in this regard.
According to the auto-rickshaw and taxi drivers, the government has increased CNG prices three times this year. The Indraprastha Gas Limited (IGL), the state-owned CNG supplier, had hiked CNG prices by Rs.1.75 a kg Jan 1, by Rs.1.90 a kg March 6 and Rs.2.90 per kg July 6.
"The government has increased CNG prices three time this year alone, this is not acceptable. We did not get any cooperation from the Delhi transport minister and commissioner," Soni said.
The auto unions also said that they were not against the installation of GPS in autos.
"We are not against installing GPS. But when the idea was mooted, then transport minister Arvind Singh Lovely had said the GPS would cost Rs.7,500 and that we would get a subsidy from the government. Now, they are saying it will cost Rs.18,000. Why is it so? Even the Delhi High Court has said the GPS will cost Rs.7,500. How can they change the price," an auto union member questioned.
The unions assured that they would not call another strike after Navratri if they got a roll back from the government and would also not increase the fares if the government reduced the price of CNG.
"Even after facing so many hurdles, we are concerned about the people who rely on autorickshaws and taxis. Since it is Navratri time, we are holding a one-day protest. But if our demands are not met, we might go on an indefinite strike after Navratri," Soni said.
Commuters had a harrowing time with autorickshaws keeping off the roads and the frequency of Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) buses being low in the morning.
"The buses are already crowded and there is no certainty about their frequency. And the Metro line is far from my house. I am bound to be dependent on autos," said a furious Shabbir Ansari, a resident of Jamia Nagar.
"I had to wait for 45 minutes to get an auto for a distance of less than three km from Sarojini Nagar to Green Park (in south Delhi). I paid Rs.50 for what should be Rs.25 by the meter. Why can't authorities do anything? It is a torture," said Supriya Sharma, a resident of South Delhi's Sarojini Nagar.
On Monday, Delhi Transport Minister Ramakant Goswami had said that additional DTC buses would be deployed across the city, including at railway stations, interstate bus terminals, airport and hospitals.
Anu Tandon, a sales executive from east Delhi, complained that she had to walk about two km from her home to the nearest Metro station as she could not get an auto.
"I had to walk about two km to the Metro station, as I couldn't get an auto," she said.
However, the auto strike proved to be a bonanza for cycle rickshaw-pullers. Some of them charged double than the usual and earned an entire week's income Tuesday.